Pappy part 23

I arrived in Tampa late in the afternoon.  It had just quit raining, and the air was thick.  I don’t like tropical humidity; it clings to my body, lingers in my lungs, and dulls my wits.  I was preoccupied enough, and the unwelcome climate only increased my apprehension.  I rented a car and drove quietly, slowly to Pappy’s house.

Early his last morning Pappy’s heart failed.  He fell onto the floor, laid extended from the bathroom into the hall, and the final curtain closed.  His personal script had included another twenty years and a fanfare.  His finale was solitary and unexpected. 

When I had last been to this house it was alive and filled with love.  Since then, Mary had expired within, and now Pappy.  I was not in a hurry to cross that threshold.  There was nobody there when I arrived.  I stood at the gate that opened into the large front yard and caught my breath.  Except for the thundering storm of anxiety pounding in my heart it was unusually quiet, ghostly calm.  There was no breeze.  The Spanish moss dangled lifelessly from the two large trees in the yard.  I dared a look at the house, and was momentarily stultified in a vaporous déjà vu.  Maybe it was the heat rising, perhaps nervous shivers, but the house seemed to ripple with reflection. 

I saw a white house, with a small attic gable window that was open.  White, lace curtains hung at every window.  Three steps led to the porch, which was well swept, and accommodated a white wicker love seat and two chairs with pastel yellow cushions, and an abundance of potted flowers.  The front door had an intricate, clear leaded glass design, and it stood open behind a screen door.  From behind the screen wearing a golden hauberk stood an old knight, with rabbitesque face and ears.  He motioned for me to come in.  No! I trembled. 

Trevor’s arrival was timely.  As he pulled into the driveway, I shook loose the eerie illusion.  There remained a small, pale blue house.  Pappy’s house.  On the little porch was a cluster of cardboard boxes stacked nearly as high as a person.  There was no attic, no gable window, no lace curtains, no wicker furniture, and no potted flowers.  But there was, sitting rather inconspicuously in a corner near the door, a small statuette of a rabbit in a hat. 

“Hey Bro.” 

It was good to hear Trevor’s voice.  It was good to see his face.  He introduced me to his friend Harley, who had come along to help drive, and take advantage of the time to visit family that lived in the Tampa area. 

“He will be staying here with us.  Have you been here long?”

“Happy to share the space,” I said to Harley.  “The more the merrier, and it will be nice to have someone impartial to lessen the tension of the moment.  No, just arrived.” I returned the conversation to Trevor. 

“We arrived earlier today.  You are not going to believe what you see when you go inside.”  Said Trevor, and I noticed a look of amazed agreement on Harley’s face. 

“Nope.  You’re not going to believe it.”  He concurred, handed me one of the sacks of groceries and cleaning supplies from the car, and we proceeded to the house. 

It was incredible.  The house was quite a mess!  It is not uncommon for an older person to lose control of housecleaning.  I recall my grandmother’s house.  All her life she had been meticulously neat, yet at the end she was unable to perform household chores.  I was shocked when I saw her house then, and equally as stunned by this scenario.  Mary had kept the little home tidy, but Pappy had not. 

I suppose that I could spend a couple of paragraphs discussing the slovenliness of the aged, or elucidating upon Pappy’s particular style of refuse, but unless one has experienced it directly, he or she might not be able to imagine what happens behind the doors of the elderly.  A thousand words would yet be an incomplete picture.  Many older adults need help.  Many younger adults could care less.

Now, I do not imply that Pappy was incapacitated.  He had his wits about him, and went diligently to work every day.  Furthermore, I can venture a guess that his techniques of bachelorhood had never included much concern for an orderly home front.  Pappy was an artist.  He lived in a fantasy that often transcended the human grind.  After Mary’s exit from his life, he had returned to his bachelor ways, though this time tired and somewhat forlorn.  He ate from cans, and left the dishes stacked about the kitchen in hope of a miracle maid.  He laid his clothes wherever they might fall, and was more likely to move them from place to place rather than put them away.  Dust was a household accessory, and he rarely vacuumed or swept.  He saved and stacked everything.  That was the fascinating essence of Pappy that would occupy Trevor, Harley, and me during this difficult time, and therefore alleviate much of the emotional stress.  He saved and stacked everything.

Of primary interest was Pappy’s audio-video library, which consisted of thousands of videotapes and CDs stacked all over the house.  He appeared to have had a copy of every motion picture ever produced, and many that he had made.  Here was Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, Frankenstein, King Kong, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Adam’s Rib, The African Queen, High Noon, Lawrence of Arabia, A Clockwork Orange, The Godfather, Star Wars, ET—The Extraterrestrial, Titanic, Father’s Day Frolics, Pappy Does Dallas, and nearly every film and B movie otherwise—and of course, Stagecoach.  

There were CDs of every imaginable venue of music and musician: jazz, country, classical, film scores, television scores, musicals, children’s tunes, folk, rap, blues, rhythm and blues, soul, and even story tellers and comedy.  Many were copied from another source onto Pappy’s personal discs and videotapes; many were purchased commercially.  Then there was his equipment.  He had an up-to-date computer system with CD burners, scanners, printers, and various other puzzling hardware.  His software collection was mostly freebies, but many freebies—most of which I discovered he had not loaded.  There were also several old motion picture projectors sitting about: 8mm, 16mm, and 32mm.  There were a couple of video cameras, and video editing equipment, audio editing equipment, a soundboard, and other strange and curious devices that went “zip when thy moved, bop when they stopped, and whirr when they stood still… I never knew just what they were, and I guess I never will.” 

Pappy also had an extensive collection of books about the film and animation industry.  There were also many art books.  Books were placed in bookshelves, stacked on the dining table and on the floor, along the hearth in his studio room, alongside his bed, in the bathroom, and other strategic spots. 

Furthermore, there were his pictures.  Pappy had become quite prolific in his drawings, sketches, cartoons, and doodles during his last year or so.  This was to be even more evident at his memorial service, but at his house there was an abundance of these items.  Most of his later drawings were comical self-portraits and caricatures of himself in amusing or embarrassing situations.  He had sent me several of these pictures over the prior few months, and I was aware that he was creating them, however I had no idea how abundantly.  

Yes, Pappy had saved and stacked everything.  In one bedroom he had stacked all his memorabilia of Mary.  Mary loved to sew, and in this room was all her sewing gear: a couple sewing machines, fabrics, threads, swatches, needles, thimbles, and other stitching requirements.  Here also were many boxes of photos, papers, and greetings cards—hundreds of greetings cards from all phases of Pappy’s past.  And, silently on a back shelf, among her earthly possessions, there was Mary herself; a canister of ashes sat modestly labeled—Mary.    

In his bedroom, Pappy had more videotapes stacked along one wall, and a pile of clothing along another.  On his two dressers I found several watches, several pairs of glasses, several belts, several wallets, several rings, several pencils, several ink pens, several bottles of cologne, several safety pins, several quarters, several containers of pills, several photographs, and several Bibles.    

“Your father had three of everything.”  Harley said whimsically. 

I looked at him from out of my stupor.  He had a genuinely compassionate smile, and it presented a relief from the overwhelming scope of Pappy’s life before me.

“Did you and Trevor get any beer?”  It was difficult to speak.

“You bet!” I heard Trevor call from the other room.

“Let’s pop one now!” Said Harley with a grin.

“Yeah, let’s do.” 

Understanding that we would be staying in this house for over a week, we spent the remainder of that day cleaning the bathroom and kitchen.  I am sure that we were a sweaty sight to behold by evening, when the doorbell rang.  It was Bryn and her daughter Ruth.

Bryn had gotten to know Pappy shortly after Mary had passed away, and had been one of his closest friends since then.  It was she that found him that fateful day, and she that called Trevor with the sad news.  Bryn worked with Pappy in the media department at the university.  She had become quite fond of the old goat during that time: helped him to and from work, doctor, grocery, and elsewhere; checked up on him periodically, and I’m sure offered an ear or two for him to bend.  Rachel had taken a liking to “Papa Donn” as well.  He had eagerly accepted the role of surrogate grandpa.  Over the next week I would discover that Pappy had befriended and charmed many folks during his last couple of years, especially the ladies, but no one had come as close as Bryn and Rachel.  They became the most important contact, and friends, to Trevor and I during this time as well, and I cannot thank them enough for their support and assistance.

We chatted for a brief while that evening.  Bryn recalled stories about Pappy.  Trevor and I told of how we had finally found him, and of the wonderful process of re-acquaintance that we had experienced.  The conversation was a pleasant nightcap.  It had been a long day though, and we were exhausted. 

After Bryn and Ruthie left it was time to determine who would sleep where.  Trevor had purchased an air mattress, and Harley had requested the sofa.  By default, I was left with the shortest straw.  Tired, emotional, and strangely uneasy, I lay down on Pappy’s bed and pulled the cover over me.  Although I left the light on, I fell quickly asleep.

The clatter from the kitchen, and the smell of fresh coffee woke me early. 

“How’d you sleep?” asked Harley, as he handed me a cup of java.

“Surprisingly well. No visitations.  How ‘bout you?”

“Sofa is comfortable.”

Trevor was sitting on the porch, and Harley and I joined him.  We discussed our itinerary for the day.  The morning would consist of more cleaning.  In the afternoon Harley would visit his family while Trevor and I began the arduous task of sorting through everything.  Trevor wanted to tackle the audiovisual library and equipment, which worked out well, as I wanted to go through the mounds of papers in search of the past, or the future.  The day quickly passed into evening.  Bryn and Ruthie came by for a short while and we set a time for Pappy’s memorial service which was to be held at the university in a couple of days.  Harley returned just as they were leaving.

“I saw an interesting looking little bar just a few blocks from here—Barnacles.” Harley said.  “You guys up for a wake?”

Trevor and I had been running on adrenalin, and had seen enough of three of everything for the day.  We were definitely in the mood for a wake. 

“Let’s walk to this wake.” Trevor suggested.  

Barnacles was decorated in nautical agglomeration.  We entered through a small, pier-like vestibule into an open area with a noticeably low overhead.  The bar was rectangular and slightly to one side of the space, and on the other side was a small stage preset for a performance.   Along the bulkhead behind the bar was a row of booths.  On the other side was a group of small tables scattered around the deck in front of a tiny dance floor.  Pictures of ships hung on the bulkheads and had come to rest at many different angles, as if Barnacles had just weathered a storm.  Behind the bar was a large ship in a bottle and a couple of carved, wooden sailors wearing yellow slickers and standing about three foot high.  The rail that separated the bar from the tables was topped with a length of line that had been decidedly shellacked.  I don’t know what Trevor and Harley thought about Barnacles, but I felt the need for a grog-o-rum.  We bellied up to the bar.

Our bartender introduced herself as Neva.  She was an attractive, windswept looking woman of middle age and spoke with a slight accent.  Her hair and eyes were dark and her skin olive and sun dried.  The consensus of us three pirates at the bar was that she was most likely of Cuban descent.  Neva wore a vivid blue, silk blouse that she tied around her thin stomach, and left brazenly unbuttoned at the top.  She was moderately endowed, but certainly understood how to tempt an old salt out of his hard-earned bounty.  When she leaned on the bar in front of Trevor, Harley, and me, I could not help but notice on her breast a small, faded tattoo of a treasure chest, open and overflowing with gems.  I have little doubt that Trevor or Harley noticed it as well.

“Hello boys.”  Her voice was raspy, and sexy.  “What would you like?”

Looking up from the faded treasure, “How ‘bout a Havana Club and water?” I mumbled.

“Naw.  Wish we had it.”

“Well, a Cockspur and water.  With a Lemon twist?”

“Good choice.  And you boys?”

Trevor and Harley ordered, and I don’t think that any of the three of us minded being called boys.  Not the way Neva said it.

“Rum and water?” Questioned Trevor.

“I felt compelled.”

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

The declaration came from somewhere, but it was rather dark in Barnacles, and we couldn’t see from where.

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

Again, it was announced from some unseen nook.  I looked at Trevor and Harley, and we were all three grinning widely. 

“Sounds like a bird.” Said Harley.

There were a few folks in the bar, but it was not too busy.  As we looked around, I noticed Neva smiling at us.  She approached.

“Where are you boys from?” She asked.

We started up a conversation with Neva, introduced ourselves, and explained why we were in the area…

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

…Told her about Pappy, to which she responded, “Papa Donn?”

Needless to say, we were quite surprised.

“I knew him.  Papa Donn was a charmer.  Everyone liked him.  His bus would stop out front, and he would come in for a grouper sandwich now and then.  He told me about you boys, about finding you after many years.  He was so proud.”

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

Neva smiled again at our puzzlement.  “It’s Jenny, and her parrot Pete.  She comes in several times a week and sits in the first booth.  Always drinks tap beer and shares it with Pete.  Pete gets drunk and talkative.  People usually buy Jenny’s beers, probably four a night, then she disappears into the city somewhere.  Don’t know much about her really.” 

Neva excused herself to attend on a couple that had just sat down, and the three of us moved several stools down the bar in order to see Jenny and Pete.  It was dark, and the first booth was rather secluded.  We could see that Jenny was an older woman, thin and crooked in posture.  Pete was a small green and yellow parrot and was free to walk around the tabletop. 

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

He would occasionally waddle up to his and Jenny’s beer, dip his head in, swish it about some, and then throw it back with a sideward shaking motion that would splash the old woman.  Sometimes she would place her hand at Pete’s feet and he would climb on her finger, then she would hold Pete to her lips and they would smooch.  It seemed a lonely sight to behold, but Jenny and Pete appeared quite unattached to what I, or anybody there, thought.  I sent them a beer.  Neva said that they appreciated it, though they did not acknowledge their existence to anyone except each other. 

 As the evening progressed Neva told a story of how Pappy had come in later in the evening one night, shortly after Mary had died.  Neva had never known him to drink, but that one night he had a couple glasses of wine.  That night, they had a Frank Sinatra mimic singing old Sinatra favorites.  Barnacles began to get a little busy, and Neva told us the story in segments as she went back and forth to other customers.

“Well,” Neva went on to say, “your father sat at this bar and began to quietly sing along with each song.  He carried a tune quite well, and knew all the words.  I was amazed, and told the band.  Well, to make a long story short, Papa Donn sang a couple of tunes on stage and ‘brought the house down.’  Everyone loved it.  I could certainly tell that he enjoyed performing.  I remember that shortly after that he told me he was a bit tired, and he left.  We never saw him in here again.”

Trevor and I looked teary eyed at each other, not having words to express our emotion.

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

We looked up to see Jenny quietly departing Barnacles, with Pete clinging to her shoulder.

“I’m an ol’ poop… shit pants Pete!”

Trevor, Harley, and I could not contain our laughter. 

“Here’s to Jenny and Pete!” We saluted, each with a tap beer.

We stayed there for a while longer, until one of us had the good sense to suggest that we not get too inebriated, as the next day we had to go to the memorial service at the college in the morning, then to the crematorium in the afternoon to acknowledge Pappy’s corporal finale.  After a couple more rums we left Barnacles into the night, never to be seen there again.

Continue to Part 24
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Mark T.K. Fought